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Temporary employees: necessary evil or valued asset?

By Aaron Green, 1/22/2007

Many organizations view temporary employees as a necessary evil. And that's fair, considering many temporary employees view temping as a necessary evil.

But as employers, we should make an effort to change temping's negative impression because, given current and anticipated future labor shortages, it seems likely that usage of temporary employees will increase.

Temporary employees currently represent about 2% of the U.S. workforce, but many industry experts feel the U.S. will end up with temporary staff usage comparable to Europe where temps make up 4-5% of employment and are more strategically integrated into the workforce.

As usage expands and employers seek to maximize their returns on labor dollars, maximizing the productivity of your temporary employees is becoming even more important. Here are some tips to make the most of your temporary workforce:

- First things first: give a thorough job description - To ensure you get a temporary employee who is a good fit, you need to be specific about the job to be performed and about your corporate culture. For example, rather than telling a staffing agency you need an administrative temp, be specific: Does your temp need to know certain software packages? Take transcription? Answer phones? Conduct research on the Internet? List the skills required as well as the skills that would be "nice to have." Also describe the dress code in advance to avoid potentially embarrassing situations. Finally, think about the culture in your organization and what type of person will best fit in.

- Set expectations - Be clear about the job and how to do it. Just as you wouldn't put a new receptionist to work without explaining the intricacies of the phone system, don't expect a temporary employee to instantly understand your firm's software, e-mail, or workflow processes.

  • Give him or her the tools to get the job done as well as an understanding of your expectations.
  • During the initial training session, assign one person in your organization responsibility for managing the temporary employee. In my career I have gotten feedback from thousands of temps and it is much too common to hear that a temp had no idea who he or she was supposed to report to at the client site.
  • After the initial training session, check in with the person frequently and let him or her know where to turn with questions.

- Remember, no mother named her child "The Temp" - This seems self-evident, but we've all witnessed employees who are introduced as "the temp." The temp you paid a recruiter to find is a person with his or her own strengths and insights and name. When you treat temporary employees like valued members of your team, that's what they become.

- Communicate, communicate, communicate - Set aside extra time at the beginning of a temporary's assignment to help him or her get acclimated. The best way to flatten out learning curves and shorten ramp-up times for temporary employees is to give honest and appropriate feedback and to be sure new employees know where and how to get their questions answered in a timely manner. There are some questions, though, that you will not need to answer for your temporary employee. Deciding in advance which issues to address directly with the temporary employee and when to contact the hiring agency will help everyone avoid surprises and maintain a productive work environment.

- Make sure your agency earns its fee - Know when to involve the staffing agency. While the agency can't supervise the temp's day-to-day activities they can and should deal with employment issues: Is the temp showing up late? Is the temp doing a good job but struggling when interacting with one certain employee at your organization? Tell the agency. Many times the agency can fix the problem through communication with the temp.

As much as possible, routinely communicate with the agency, even in the absence of a problem. Whatever time you spend communicating with the staffing agency will be repaid ten times over in the form of temps who best match your specifications, shorter search times, and other efficiencies.

- Defer the question "Can I have more money?" - Sometimes temporary employees will ask you for a raise. This is an area where you definitely want to get the agency involved. Simply defer such requests to the agency as you do not want to be involved, for two reasons:

  • Setting pay rates could leave you vulnerable to claims of co-employment.
  • It's not your job. In addition to being no fun, dealing with pay rate issues is part of the service you get from a temporary staffing agency.

- Try before you buy: temp-to-hire conversions - The pool of temporary employees working at your organization can be a great source to recruit from. For many of our clients, this is a primary reason for using temps. It allows them to try out the person and see first-hand whether he or she has the right skills and fits their company culture.

Sometimes temporary assignments start out with both the client and the candidate anticipating that the assignment is temp-to-hire. Other times a temp works in one capacity and impresses the organization so much that the temp is considered for an unrelated position. In either case, the same good advice applies: treat the temporary employee as a prospective new hire and engage in some of the same activities you would if you were recruiting the person. For instance, make sure he or she sees and hears about the positive attributes of your organization. Let the employee know you are impressed with his or her work and that you think he or she would fit your organization's culture. I've seen occasions where a temp left a client assignment for a perm job at another employer, only to discover that the client would have been happy to hire the employee but just never mentioned it.

If you are interested in hiring a temporary employee full time, be sure to involve the staffing agency. They can and should be able to help you successfully hire the person according to your timetable. The agency will know the person's salary requirements and, as an intermediary, will be able to ask questions you might feel uncomfortable asking.

When you follow these few guidelines, using temporary employees won't seem like a necessary evil but a great way to enhance your company's workforce.

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